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Incense link to lung cancer

26th August 2008

Long-term use of incense increases the risk of developing lung cancer, according to a new study to be published in October.

The report, which the authors say is the first investigation of a link between incense and cancer, appears in the October issue of the American Cancer Society journal Cancer.

Researchers say burning incense produces a mixture of possible carcinogens, including polyaromatic hydrocarbons, carbonyls and benzene responsible for the development of various respiratory cancers.

Dr Jeppe Friborg of the Statens Serum Institute in Copenhagen, Denmark along with colleagues in Singapore and the US studied the associations between exposure to incense and a variety of respiratory tract cancers in a large population in Singapore.

The study involving 61,320 Singapore Chinese who were free of cancer between the ages of 45-74 during the period 1993-1998. Researchers followed these individuals through 2005, noting which participants developed cancer during that time.

Dr Friborg’s team documented a total of 325 upper respiratory tract cancers (including nasal/sinus, tongue, mouth and laryngeal cancer) and 821 cases of lung cancer during follow-up. Incense use was associated with a significantly increased risk of upper respiratory tract cancer, but there was no overall effect on lung cancer.

“Given the widespread and sometimes involuntary exposure to smoke of burning incense, these findings carry significant public health implications,” the report suggests. “Besides initiatives to reduce incense smoke exposure, future studies should be undertaken to identify the least harmful types of incense”.

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